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Lanai residents torn over how to manage coveted beach

Public meeting draws concerns over proposals, but many don’t want overcrowding

Unlike many beaches and parks in the state, Hulopoe Beach Park is quiet, well-kept, away from major roadways and devoid of big obstructions from multiple hotels. As traffic from nonresidents is increasing, the Hulopoe Beach Park Council recently proposed draft measures to “limit nonresident access” to the park, including an online reservation system that includes a fee. A public meeting Thursday night drew scores of people and dozens of testifiers, many of whom said the measures may be too restrictive. — BUTCH GIMA photo

Unlike many beaches and parks in the state, Hulopoe Beach Park — a special spot on Lanai’s south shore — isn’t completely overrun with people.

Hulopoe Beach Park Council, a panel charged with overseeing the private land since the late ’80s, is working to keep it from getting there.

“People’s experience at Hulopoe evokes a lot of emotion, passion and a lot of memories for those who were born and raised here, who have family here,” Butch Gima, Lanai native and Hulopoe Beach Park Council member, said Friday. “We want to preserve it, perpetuate that feeling you get from Hulopoe.”

Lanai’s beach park panel of nine members recently proposed draft measures to “limit nonresident access” to the park, including an online reservation system that includes a fee.

Nonresidents wouldn’t be allowed to enter the park without a reservation. With a reservation, nonresidents would wear a wristband while accessing and using the park. Without reservations, they would have to access the beach via alternative route.

Hulopoe Beach Park, a prized swath of coastline on Lanai’s south shore, has been overseen by a council that was established in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The council said that it manages the privately owned park, which extends from the high water mark inland. Members emphasized during a Thursday night meeting that it is not trying to restrict beach access. — BUTCH GIMA photo

Also, residents could sponsor access for family or friends with the same process used in resident sponsorship for camping on the beach.

A public meeting facilitated by the beach council Thursday night drew scores of attendees online and in person. Fourteen Lanai residents testified, along with others from Maui, Oahu and California.

Many said they appreciated the work to reduce overcrowding but opposed the draft measures, saying rules could be too restrictive for former residents and nonresident friends or family.

Keala Kaopuiki-Santos, whose family goes back generations on Lanai, said she doesn’t want to see Hulopoe overrun but she believes in balance.

Lanai has already become exclusive and she has concerns that this “restriction might further that,” Keala Kaopuiki-Santos said.

She suggested a tiered system to prioritize people with ties to the island for access to the beach park and for camping.

Lanai High and Elementary School teacher Deborah Scarborough also testified that the measures may be too restrictive.

Still, Scarborough acknowledged that the beach park and surrounding areas are being taxed by a higher volume of people.

“How could we start at the root of these companies that are dropping day trippers here?” she asked. “My concern is that there’s no money coming into Lanai. It’s a use and leave situation that is affecting the environment.”

At the start of the hearing, beach park council chairwoman Kelly Maltezo, Gima’s daughter, acknowledged that the panel has heard worries about how measures could impact former residents, family members or guests of residents.

“I challenge you all today to please provide us ideas or suggestions of what you think would work,” she said.

Maltezo emphasized the difference between the beach and the beach park, the latter of which is owned by Pulama Lana’i and extends inland from the high-water mark.

“In no shape or form are we trying to block access to the beach because that is illegal,” she said. “Contrary to what many of you probably have seen circulating, especially if you have social media, the Hulopoe Beach Park Council is in no shape or form trying to restrict access for residents, make residents make reservations, or suggest that residents should even pay, that would go against the very core (of the council). . . . Our first and foremost priority has and always will be Lanai residents.”

Overcrowding throughout the state has been increasing in recent years, coinciding with record arrivals to Hawaii in 2019.

Domestic arrivals rebounded faster than anticipated after pandemic travel rules were relaxed a little over a year ago and government officials are continuing to mull options to curb traffic and negative impacts on natural resources, while preserving resident access.

Recent overcrowding mitigation measures by the state include establishing reservation and/or parking fee systems for nonresidents at popular spots, such as Maui’s Wai’anapanapa and Makena state parks, along with areas on other islands.

Gima on Friday said the council will meet next week to go over the public hearing and members’ reactions to the testimonies. They will discuss possible next steps, such as modifying or refining the proposal, or whether more information should be gathered before offering the community a specific proposal.

How to prioritize resident access and mitigate overcrowding is uniquely challenging for the beach council, though, Gima said.

After all, it’s one of the few coastline spots in Hawaii that’s quiet, well-kept, removed from the highway and devoid of obstructions from multiple hotels.

“The beach council wanted to take a preventative and proactive position on our beach and beach park, knowing what’s been happening across the state with overcrowding — we didn’t want to wait until a crisis occurred,” Gima said.

“We all want ‘how it used to be’ for Hulopoe Beach, but the beach park council is responsible for how it currently is and for what it possibly could turn out to be,” he added. “We want to be part of the potential changes.”

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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